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The UK's broken asylum system

The UK is home to approximately 1% of the 27.1 million migrants that have been forcibly displaced across the world. Yet, the overarching rhetoric emulating from those in power is that this country is facing an invasion of small boats.


The asylum system in this country is not fit for purpose. As is the case with many problems in the UK, the cause of this inadequate and harmful system is the Government’s total negligence to those seeking safety. From its inability to effectively handle asylum applications, to the calculated crafting of the hostile environment, it seems the UK Government is determined to make life difficult for those fleeing war and/or persecution. The Home Office has been criticised many times for its inability to effectively handle asylum applications. Asylum seekers often spend months, and in some cases, years, waiting for a decision on their cases. This extended period of uncertainty undoubtedly has severe mental and emotional effects on those involved, often irreversibly so. The Government’s inability to effectively process applications has led to a severe backlog of claims, that, instead of putting money into, they keep those seeking asylum trapped in temporary accommodation and cycles of inadequate living standards.


The Bibby Stockholm is reflective of the cynicism that inhabits every phase of the asylum system in the UK, and it is entirely representative of the callousness with which the UK Government treats the most vulnerable. Compared to a prison, the Bibby Stockholm has less living space than a parking bay and has cost taxpayers around £22 million. Not only is it drastically more expensive than other housing options, as recent news has shown, it is also severely unsafe: with an outbreak of a deadly bacteria strain and a tragic, avoidable death of one of its residents all within the first four months. Refugees fleeing war, persecution, torture and physical threat deserve compassion, humanity and safety. Not imprisonment in what has been likened to a floating death trap and deemed unlawful by the Supreme Court. Safety issues aside, the Bibby Stockholm is arguably useless. It is a performative vessel that is not a viable response to the problem of the UK’s crumbling asylum system. The Government, instead, needs to put money into the asylum claims and application backlog to ensure the prompt safety and resettlement of those in desperate need.

At GrIP, we have recently seen first hand, the effects of the Government mishandling in relation to the asylum system. We have worked to advocate for and support individuals being forcibly relocated after living in Greenwich for years and forming local networks and links.  We have helped numerous people left destitute and homeless following eviction from hotels with minimal notice after eventually receiving a positive decision on their asylum application.


Time and time again, the UK Government leads with cruelty and hostility in its ruthless stampede to victimise and mistreat those most vulnerable. The Bibby Stockholm barge was never a realistic solution to rectifying the asylum system. It was a deliberately cruel and performative act, designed to conspicuously perpetuate the Government’s anti-immigration rhetoric. A rhetoric that has been shaped by the cruel scapegoating of those desperately seeking asylum to distract from the sheer negligence and ill-fit of the workings of the current state system.  


But there are alternatives – the Government could stop placing limitations on the number of  designated “safe” routes to the UK for people seeking refuge. The Government could enable asylum claims to be established in any embassy overseas. The Government could establish centres for asylum applications in France and Belgium. The Government could accept, in line with international law, that however an asylum seeker arrives in the UK, whether it is by plane, train, automobile or small boat, they are entitled to have their asylum application assessed in a timely and compassionate manner. The Government could accept that treating people with humanity and care is far healthier for the soul and mentality of the nation than scapegoating and dehumanisation could ever be.

Words by Grace Blenkinsop

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